Dartez Hamlin

Western Kentucky’s Dartez Hamlin crosses the finish to win the men’s 200-meter dash at last year’s Conference USA Indoor Championships at the Birmingham Crossplex in Birmingham, Ala.

The Western Kentucky track and field team is preparing to head back to Birmingham, Ala. – this time for a championship event.

WKU is scheduled to compete in the Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Birmingham Crossplex on Saturday and Sunday to conclude the indoor season.

“I think the way the season has gone so far, I think I’m happy with what we’ve done,” WKU director of cross country/track and field Brent Chumbley said Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of really good individual performances, so I think we can score pretty well at the meet.

“We’re just low on numbers, but healthy or not healthy, we’re low on numbers right now. That’s just something that we’re working on in recruiting and in that battle. ... Track is a numbers game. We need numbers. We’ve got some really good, quality kids, and I expect many more podium finishes this year than we had last year, so we’re looking forward to this weekend.”

WKU has been battling some injuries, according to Chumbley, and he’s hopeful this week leading up to the indoor finale has allowed his athletes to recuperate. The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday also extended the recruiting dead period – which was put in place near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – through May 31.

The weekend’s championship events will mark the fifth time since opening the indoor season Jan. 16 that the Hilltoppers have competed at the facility in Birmingham – each of their indoor meets were held there – with the latest being the Samford Invite No. 2 last week, where the team came home with six top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes.

Sprinter Marlowe Mosley was named C-USA’s Male Track Athlete of the Week following his performance at the event. Mosley has won the 400-meter run in back-to-back meets, and his time of 47.66 seconds in his latest outing ranks atop C-USA’s times in the event this season. He’s also ranked fourth in the 200 meters – tied with teammate Dartez Hamlin – and Mosley is the only male runner in the league with two top-five marks in multiple sprinting events.

Hamlin has posted the 13th-best time in the 60 meters at 6.96 seconds, while Elliott Bryant posted a 6.95 at the Jaguar Invitational on Feb. 7 – a mark that ranks 11th in the league. The staff believes Marlowe and Hamlin have top-three ability, and hopes for continued improvements from Bryant and Jonathan Allen.

On the women’s sprints side, Alexis Williams is expected to be near the top of the pack in multiple events. She’s recorded the best time in the 200 meters among league teams with her 24.51 at the Samford Invite in January, as well as the second-best time this season among league competitors in the 60 meters that same day.

“I feel as if (Mosley, Hamlin and Williams) should finish top three. Where top three, who knows? But am I expecting a win out of certain events? Yes, but hopefully they won’t see this before we run, but I would like to see them finish in the top three,” sprints coach Tosha Ansley said Thursday. “That’s what I’m expecting for Dartez, for Marlowe, for Alexis – I’m expecting them in the top three for their events.”

Williams was named the C-USA Female Track Athlete of the Week earlier this winter, and thrower Kaison Barton also received a weekly honor – this season was the first since 2016 between both indoor and outdoor seasons WKU had three different athletes receive weekly honors – and expectations are high for the freshman this weekend. Chumbley says he’s throwing far enough in practice to win the event, and a top-three finish is very real.

Barton holds the third-best mark in the shot put in C-USA this season and the fifth-best in the weight throw. John Elam ranks fifth in the shot and seventh in the weight throw, while Brett Brannon has the third-best mark among C-USA teams in the latter event this winter.

“In the men’s weight throw, I think we should probably have three guys score in that event, so we’re looking forward to that,” Chumbley said. “Two guys score in the shot – John Elam will be in both of those events as well – so that’s exciting for us.”

Chumbley also has high hopes for Devon Montgomery and Grace Turner in the pole vault. The duo posted the seventh- and eighth-best marks in the men’s and women’s pole vault in the league this season, respectively.

“I think, in the pole vault, we’ve got chances on both sides to be on the podium if Grace jumps well and Devon jumps well,” Chumbley said. “They could both be on the podium, they’re both ready to go, it’s just a matter of we’ve had very few training opportunities. What I’ve seen the last few weeks, we’re ready to hit a big number, it’s just are we going to hit it this weekend?”

Casey Buchanan might present the best opportunity for the WKU men to have a high finisher in a distance event at the meet. The freshman from Adelaide, Australia, posted a 1:55.20 at the Samford Bulldog Invite on Feb. 12, which is the third best time posted from a league athlete this season. Charlotte’s Kobe Brown (1:53.18) and Zach Beale (1:54.23) have marks ranking ahead of Buchanan’s, while the 49ers also hold the next two spots on the performance list.

Charlotte holds six of the top seven times in C-USA in the mile, with WKU’s Dedrick Troxell breaking up that group with his time of 4:14.18 from the Feb. 7 Jaguar Invitational that ranks fifth – roughly seven seconds off the top time from Austin Carroll.

Savannah Heckman enters the weekend with the third-best time in the women’s 5,000-meter run this season, but her top time of 18:18.49 from the Jaguar Invitational is roughly 48 seconds slower than the second-best time and well off the 15:50.38 posted by Rice’s Grace Forbes on Feb. 6.

With the winter weather in the Bowling Green area the last week, WKU has been doing what it can to try to improve those numbers.

“We’ve just been trying to do the best we can, to use what we’re allowed to use, but at the end of the day, the hay is in the barn,” distance coach Brooks LeCompte said. “The kids know that. One week does not make or break us. It’s a culmination of things.”

WKU is scheduled to open the outdoor season March 26-27 at the Joe Walker Invitational in Oxford, Miss.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.